A full season in the Premiership is 38 matches. The League Cup finalists will play a minimum of six additional games. It's the same in the FA Cup. And to reache the Champions League final, a team will play another 13 matches -- all while crisscrossing Europe.
That's at least 63 matches in about nine months. That is a lot of games.
And that doesn’t include national-team duty or any pre-season games. The simple fact is, for a top-flight team in England to make a real splash in each of the four major competitions, they must have talent, depth and not just a little bit of luck.
With the Champions League about to kick off and the League Cup not far behind, we asked our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada how well they think Arsenal can cope with the inevitable fixture congestion that being one of the top clubs in the world is guaranteed to bring.
Question: How do you think Arsenal are positioned to compete in the four major competitions –Premier League, Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup – with the current squad?
For a while there at the start of the season things were looking pretty dark. I'm not telling anyone anything they don't already know by recounting the dual facts that Arsenal picked up three major injuries to three players who figured to feature heavily this term -- Podolski, Arteta, and Oxlade-Chamberlain -- and got one of the toughest draws in the Champions League group stages. That all happened on the back of an opening day defeat to Aston Villa and a summer where Arsenal looked like they were struggling in the transfer market.
But since then, Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League, brought Flamini back to the club, beaten Tottenham 1-0, signed a third keeper, and... oh yeah, and signed one of the most exciting playmakers in Europe, Mesut Ozil. Everyone is riding high after what looked like a dream week. In fact, I haven't seen the club, the fans, and the manager this energized in all my time following the Arsenal.
Perhaps that's why I feel so confident saying that Arsenal should have enough depth in class to cope with the bumps and bruises that will inevitably appear over the course of the season. Even in the two places people most worry: center half and center forward.
Arsenal should have enough depth in class to cope with the bumps and bruises that will inevitably appear over the course of the season. Even in the two places people most worry.Tim Bostelle
At center half, three players for two spots is usually enough and Arsenal have a fourth if needed in Bacary Sagna. I know that Sagna is first-choice right back but I was calling for Jenkinson to get more time there last year and still remain convinced he is going to be Arsenal's first-choice sooner rather than later. So I have no problem with Jenkinson wide and Sagna in the middle. This is especially true with Flamini there to cover.
Flamini also provides cover for left back and in midfield. And judging by his no-nonsense approach during the North London Derby, where he sat deep while Ramsey got dug in to the Spurs higher up the pitch, Flamini provides an energetic base from which the rest of the team can operate.
Up front, the concern is that with Podolski out Giroud is the only forward unless Arsenal want to dip into the largely untested waters of Yaya Sanogo. Wenger as much admitted that the team were looking for a forward as well with the highly publicized attempts to land Higuain and Suarez. Still, I think Theo Walcott is itching to get a chance to prove himself in the center forward role and will get a look in if need be. Walcott has improved steadily each of the last three years and I see this as a real break-out year for the young Englishman.
That's why I tend to be more sanguine about squad depth than some other folks. I think we have what's needed to get us to January where we can buy again if needed or if a top quality forward like Lewandowski comes on the market.
As for the rest of the team Ramsey has shown marked improvement over last year and has taken Arteta's role with aplomb. Wilshere is finally over his injury nightmare and looks to have formed a good partnership with Ramsey already. Koscielny has improved in each of the last few years to the point where now I wonder if he isn't first choice over the captain. And even Szczesny is looking very positive this season.
And to that, Wenger added... Mesut Ozil.
I suspect Ozil has something to prove to Jose Mourninho who famously benched the precocious German player last season only to have his teammates like Serge Ramos wear Ozil's shirt beneath his regular kit in protest.
The prospect of Arsenal playing with a front four of Cazorla on the left, Giroud in the middle, Walcott on the right, and Ozil pulling the strings in the Bergkamp role is just mouthwatering. I feel confident that bar any serious injury to two or more of the key players Arsenal have to be a strong challenger for all tournaments.
With the strength of Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey, Wilshere, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Sagna, the ever-steady Gibbs, and Szczesny I think Arsenal have to qualify for the knockout stages in the Champions League and get into the semis of the League Cup.
Then it will be January and with Podolski, Ox, Diaby, and Arteta back, plus anyone Wenger might cheekily recruit? I think this is a very solid Arsenal side that can challenge for all four trophies.
Boy, I would love to be as optimistic as Tim!
I have said this for many years, on any given day, the 11 players Arsenal put out on the pitch can beat any side in the world. I have believed that for years and I believe that even more strongly this season.
Looking at the quality from back to front, there’s no doubt that Arsenal have world class talent throughout, but the injury bug has bitten the club pretty badly this season and I worry about the depth of the squad through a long campaign.
There’s no doubt that Arsenal have world class talent, but the injury bug has bitten the club pretty badly this season.Josh Ellis
Tim mentions the strength of the squad very well, but I don’t feel the team is as deep as he thinks they are. With Arsenal, obviously, alive in all competitions, there are a lot of games to be played, and on top of that, important international games to be played as well. That poses a large threat for players to pick up injuries or become tired as the season goes along.
Talent-wise, I think Arsenal have a squad that can contend in every competition this season, however, I do worry that with any more injuries and with a full-load of matches this season, Arsenal’s depth could be an issue.
Sorry to be a downer, to redeem myself, I will just sit here and recommend watching more Ozil videos.
I know I’ve already alluded to it in my previous response, but I do think Arsenal have a solid squad that will enable them to *seriously* challenge for 1-2 competitions at most (probably the Premiership and a cup competition less-grueling than the Champions League). On paper Arsenal have an extremely strong starting XI with legitimate options for cover in most midfield positions, but on offense and in defense I don’t think the depth is as proven.
For example, an injury to Ozil would mean he’d most likely be replaced by Rosicky, Ramsey or Cazorla, all of whom have played the advanced midfielder position before in a variety of competitions and would therefore be able to make a positive, game winning contribution, not just fill a gap in the squad.
If you’re going to go deep in a competition, you’re going to need proven cover in key positions.Joel McNamara
Things get a little hairier in the scenario of a Mertesacker or Giroud injury, where the CB cover of Sagna or the CF cover of Walcott could be described as “capable” but not necessarily “proven” or “match-winning” in those specific positions. If you’re going to go deep in a competition, you’re going to need proven cover in key positions, especially at a club like Arsenal where cover for an injured first-choice starter is usually needed for long stretches of the season, and in multiple positions.
I don’t deny I’m a bit of a pessimist, so I’m sure the more positive readers have already picked out the one big caveat that would undermine this prediction: an abnormally clean bill of health for the squad and the effective return of Vermaelen, Podolski and Arteta. If the currently healthy portion of Arsenal’s squad can 1) stay healthy and 2) get results to build up momentum until the return of these three, only then will they have enough depth to sustain their Premiership and FA Cup form and at the same time be able to mount a significant challenge to whatever teams face them in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
As things currently stand, however, given Arsenal’s consistent injury record, I predict this squad will go furthest in the Premiership and the FA Cup or League Cup.
The views expressed above are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 16 Sep 2013